“Walk up any of these canyons and you’ll find ruins,” said Brad, a helicopter pilot from Hamilton, MT.
I met him and his wife, Mary, on the hike to a panel of ancient petroglyphs in the Butler Wash complex. I had been directed to the area by – who else? – Steve the tourist information cognoscenti. There were five ruins on the map Steve had given me, all along a sandy, hilly and curvy road that passed trails leading to the sites.
I had started the morning by saying goodbye to Jerry and Cathlet (I may have that spelling wrong), who had camped beside me the night before at the trailhead to Fishmouth Cave. Climbers and rock-art aficionados, they had moved from the East Coast within the past year. From talking with them in the evening, it appeared they were making good progress on visiting all the West had to offer in Ancient Puebloan remains.
My morning started with the hike up to the cave and a visit to the ruins along the way. We have lived in our home in Seattle for almost 40 years, and during that time we have had the chimney “tuck-pointed” at least twice because of crumbling mortar. Yet here were walls that had withstood perhaps a thousand years with the mud mortar still intact. But then it doesn’t rain nearly as much here and the rock overhangs afford ample protection from the elements.
Of the five sites indicated on the map Steve gave me, I figured I had time to visit two of them before my visit to Bears Ears ended later in the day. After Fishmouth Cave, I chose the “Procession Petroglyph Panel” as my next hike.
The trail there was longer and steeper and mostly out on open rock, a surface I’m not used to. You can’t follow footsteps from previous hikers or a trail carved into the earth. Fortunately, cairns marked the way up, and I had Brad and Mary to follow down a different route.
I wondered if the petroglyphs represented a hunt for the deer pictured. The line of human figures could be in a procession, as the name of the place suggests, but they could also represent a line of people waiting for the deer to be herded toward them for the kill. Probably some wise archeologist has an explanation of what the drawings mean, but it’s also fun to use your own imagination to decipher what the long ago artist had in mind.
The lunch spot was at the top of Comb Ridge above the petroglyphs with a view over the entire Bears Ears area. The sun shone, my Honey Crisp apple savored and Brad and Mary’s black lab ate the core, eliminating the need to pit the sticky remains in my pack.
Brad’s route down gave my creaky knees a challenge, but I’m glad I followed them for a new experience in hiking, scrambling over boulders, scoping out the route between bigger rock formations and then inching my way down the biggest expanse of rock to rejoin the marked trail.
Driving out to the highway that would take me out of Bears Ears, I passed the trailhead to the “Double Stack Ruin.” I had already forgone Cold Springs Cave and Monarch Cave. Until I get back, I’ll be working to protect them from Interior Secretary Finke Zinke and his boss who thinks an outdoor adventure is leaving a gated community.
Save the Bears Ears National Monument for all Americans to enjoy.